02/03/2014 Barbican Guide

Client: Barbican Guide
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The Tyburn Tree

The Tyburn Tree is a new sinister song-cycle which dares you to undertake a journey into a maze of music inspired by a long-forgotten London. This is a bold collection of classical prog-rock as described by its creator, composer (and saxophonist) John Harle and his musical partner and singer Marc Almond. They have planned an evening that will take us through myth and legends, encountering murders and minotaurs and it's creeping its way to the Barbican Hall this March!

There is a hunger currently to learn more about fascinating history all around us they told me, as the landscape is ever changing; and important landmarks are disappearing from the city at an alarming rate. We lose our sense of the past as old buildings are pulled down to build modern soulless concrete and glass monoliths.

You can tell when this pair start talking animatedly that this is a subject that fascinates them both and maybe now haunts their dreams. John learnt from Marc about the Ratcliffe Highway murders (in the dark alleyways of East London circa 1811) and The Vampire of Highgate (who lived in Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s). John found inspiration in the heroic quality of Marc's voice and words. And as the lyrics developed he constructed the skeletons of musical ideas around them.

For John Harle this is just another extension of his fascination with the dark arts. In the mid-1990s his work Angel Magick was the first Opera about the Elizabeth Alchemist, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and occultist – John Dee. But this is just one of the characters or places in this night of entertainment as they introduce us to their version of Spring Heeled Jack and the ghastly gallows of Marble Arch (The Tyburn Treeitself). And I should mention their spine-chilling use of the nursery rhyme 'London Bridge is Falling Down' (in My Fair Lady), proving there is also a dark sense of humour at work throughout.

But Marc and John aren't the only participants in this vision. Psychogeographer, writer and filmmaker Iain Sinclair brings his voice and poetry to this song-cycle. The pair consider Iain to be somebody who pinpointed and siphoned down the mystery of the East End. His work has a peculiar magic to it and he brings that to this moment of The Tyburn Tree.

Soprano Sarah Leonard is also a key contributor singing big parts. There is a moment, a solo
on Dark Angel (the lyrics for which are a particularly dark moment in the album) where Sarah sings with a supernatural force connecting us directly to the spirit world (inspired by the writing of John Dee). The sound she creates is almost alien, with strange slides and glissandi.

Through this new collaboration they re-imagined historynot minding a little myth being mixed in. As they explained, if you take the legendary figure of Jack the Ripper, this was a story that surrounded this figure, but no one knew exactly who he was - people has their theories but they didn't know.

They're both very excited to be able to bring this music to the live arena. You'll get this glimpse of London as a shining fortress city. John explained that in a sense Marc is the ringmaster, but he also goes through various kinds of changes. Don't be surprised to see him metamorphosise from narrator into the personification of Jack the Ripper himself. Scratch the surface of this music and an encyclopedia of the city’s macabre myths will fly out to greet you. Book now. If you dare.

Words: Ben Eshmade